EILAT, Israel – As the little girl stepped forward to pull back the ornate curtain, her eyes widened.
“Are we going to die?” she asked.
She and hundreds of other Jewish children take it seriously when they enter the Holy of Holies at the tabernacle in Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city.
“It’s so real to these kids, and interactive,” said Josh, who helps with the full-size replica along with his wife Sarah. (Note: Workers at the site have asked that only their first names be used in this article.)
“Children in Israel study the tabernacle in school,” Josh noted, “and they bring their tape measures here with them so that they can make sure this one is the size it’s supposed to be.”
And it is.
The walk-through model of the tabernacle – which gets about 15,000 visitors a year – is made to the stipulations listed in scripture, Josh said.
It wows the kids, but it’s not just for children, nor just for Jews, said Herb, a Southern Baptist representative living in Israel.
A replica of Aaron’s rod sits with a replica of the stone tablets kept in the ark of the covenant in the days of the Israelites. The replicas are on display as part of the walk-through tabernacle experience in Eilat, Israel.
And to dispel what some might think, he said, it’s anything but boring.
“When people read the Bible, they often get to the details of the tabernacle and think, ‘Boring!’ For many people, it’s the driest part to read,” Herb said. “But it really is exciting when you get into the details. It lays the foundation for our history of faith.”
That’s why he and others decided to bring the tabernacle replica to Eilat, Israel, from Germany in 2000 – so that people could see that foundation for themselves.
“Without recognizing His dwelling presence in the camp,” Herb said of the wilderness account from the book of Exodus, “how could we understand His dwelling presence in our lives? This is something we need to be able to see.”
The tabernacle screams out the message of atonement, Sarah said.
“How many kids in the U.S. have learned about the details of the tabernacle in Sunday School? Not many. But the sacrifices that happened at the tabernacle were the first way God gave His people for atonement,” she said.
The tabernacle replica is a picture of reconciliation in more ways than one, said Yohannus Vogel of the Bible Center, a Bible school in Breckerfeld, Germany.
The German school chose to build the 23-ton tabernacle model to show Israel honor on the occasion of the school’s 30th anniversary in 1986, Vogel said. Built on the school’s campus, the tabernacle had 15,000 visitors in its first two months. Thirty of them decided to follow Jesus Christ as Savior.
“We prayed and prayed over the project, and it had a great start. Many visitors had an intense response to the tabernacle,” Vogel recounted.
Students manned it and gave tours seven days a week, and some time later the school decided to send it on tour around Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
“It had 500,000 visitors in all, but afterward it ended up in storage,” Vogel said. “We were thinking over it and knew that God hadn’t intended for it to end up in boxes.”
And that’s when he got a call from Herb asking if he could rent the replica and put it in Israel. The same week, Vogel got a call from someone who had space for it in southern Israel, near where the Israelites passed through with the tabernacle on their way to the Promised Land.
“In one week, two people with the same burden of their heart called me in Germany about the same tabernacle,” Vogel said. “One had the money to move it but not the land, and the other had the land and not the money.”
It was a divine appointment, he said, and in 2000 the tabernacle found its home in Eilat.
“Our vision for the tabernacle in Eilat is for people to get a vision for the Word of God,” Josh said. “We don’t want them to think, ‘Wow, what a pretty picture,’ as much as we want them to think, ‘Wow, I want to go read God’s Word!’“
As you walk through the details of the tabernacle and see it come to life, the message of redemption becomes vibrant, Sarah said. And the way it points to Christ becomes evident to those who are open to seeing it, she explained.
“When people ask questions, we say, ‘Go back and read the Bible for yourselves,’“ Sarah said. “If they go home and even open their Bible, that’s a huge step.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for Baptist Press based in Europe.)